Otto Jaffe

Otto Jaffe was Belfast’s only Jewish Lord Mayor

Otto Jaffe, Belfast’s first and so far only Jewish Lord Mayor, was born in Hamburg on August 13, 1846. His father, Daniel Joseph Jaffe, was a merchant, who came to Belfast to set up a linen export business in 1850.

The Jaffe Brothers were based at Bedford Street in Belfast. Jaffe was educated at Mr Tate’s school in Hollywood, Co Down and spent the decade from 1867 working in New York. He then returned to Belfast in 1877 to take over the management of the family firm.

Jaffe erected the Jaffe Memorial fountain in 1874 to commemorate his father, who had funded the building of Belfast’s first synagogue at Great Victoria Street. Originally sited in Victoria Square, the fountain was surmounted by an ornamental weather vane and was later moved to the Botanic Gardens. Another memorial to Daniel Jaffe, a tall granite obelisk erected in City Cemetery on the Falls Road, has suffered considerable vandalism.

As well as having a successful career in business, Jaffe was a prominent public figure, active in Belfast civic life. His public positions included membership of the Harbour Commission, the Senate of Queen’s College, which later became Queen's University and the board of Governors of the Royal Hospital. Elected to the town council in 1894, he was Lord Mayor in 1899 and 1904.

Life President of the Belfast Hebrew congregation, Jaffe paid for most of the cost of the community’s new Annesley Street synagogue, near Carlisle Circus and formally opened the building in his guise as the city’s Lord Mayor.

He set up Jaffe Public Elementary School at the corner of both the Cliftonville and Antrim Roads in 1907. However, Jaffe’s philanthropy was poorly rewarded during the first world war when a group of Belfast ladies refused to support the Children’s Hospital if ‘the Germans’, Jaffe and his wife, remained on the board.

Otto Jaffe died in London in April 1929.

Further Reading:
In Belfast Town 1864-1880: Early Photographs from the Lawrence Collection (1984) by Brian Mercer Walker and Hugh Dixon; Great Northerners (1991) by Art Byrne and Sean McMahon; Modern Irish Lives: Dictionary of 20th Century Biography (1996) edited by Louis Redmond.